Afghan refugee Gulwali Passarlay graduates from university in England


Afghan refugee Gulwali Passarlay has just graduated from the University of Manchester in England, marking a culmination of years of struggle.

Gulwali fled across eight countries – a journey of 12,000 miles – at the age of 12 to escape war-affected Afghanistan. Many of Gulwali’s family, including his father, were killed during the conflct. His mother urged him to make his way to England.

His journey from Afghanistan to England took a year. He survived a 50-hour sea crossing with a hundred other refugees, and then a motorway journey clinging to a hot engine inside a lorry.

When he arrived in England at 13 years of age, he faced months of loneliness, poverty, and discrimination.

He was granted asylum and, against all odds, taught himself English. He enrolled at college, where the University’s Manchester Access Program spotted his potential. He studied at the University of Manchester and now, at 22 years of age, he has graduated with a degree in politics and philosophy.


Gulwali Passarlay hosted his own TedX talk, and was a guest speaker at several schools, talking about human rights and refugee issues. He was the first ever Afghan to take part in the Olympic Torch Relay.


After his graduation he said, ‘I have no doubt that the knowledge, connections, and friendships I have made while studying will stay with me for a long time.’ He added that he will ‘continue to speak up for the voiceless and give a human face to the statistics and numbers we hear from the media about refugees. I am determined to make sure justice is done and we welcome people who flee wars, conflicts and injustice with dignity and respect.’

In October he released his book ‘A Lightless Sky: An Afghan refugee boy’s journey of escape to a new life’ co-authored with Nadene Ghouri, an award-winning journalist.


Gulwali plans to work with charities who support and empower refugees, and use his experience to influence policy makers on their response to the refugee crisis. Eventually Gulwali would like to return to Afghanistan and play a role in the rebuilding of Afghanistan.

Photographs: from Manchester Evening News and Gulwali Passarlay’s website

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